An East Texas athlete hopes to take home the gold-- and the experience of a lifetime. Clay Roberts of Golden, Texas is one of 7,000 athletes from around the world competing in the 2003 Special Olympics World Games in Dublin, Ireland. The Special Olympic World Games are being billed as the largest sporting event in the world this year, welcoming athletes with learning disabilities from 160 countries. Among 1,000 athletes from Team USA, Roberts is sure to make East Texas proud.
Roberts, 23-years-old, has been competing in Special Olympics Equestrian events for eleven years. When he's not on horseback, the Mineola High School graduate is near the sparks of a welding machine. There, he creates Texas-themed lamps and coat racks, and sells them to offset his travel expenses.
Taking part in the spectacular World Games Opening Ceremony, Roberts paraded into Croke Park Arena in Dublin with Team USA on Saturday, accompanied by stars like Mohammed Ali, John Bon Jovi, and Arnold Schwarzenneger. U2 performed live on stage, and Bono introduced the event's keynote speaker Nelson Mandela. Mandela congratulated the athletes on overcoming obstacles—that remind us all of our potential for greatness. "My favorite part of the ceremony," Clay says, "was hearing all the people cheer and clap as I walked into the stadium."
Roberts will be competing in three equestrian events throughout the week, including equitation, dressage and trail rides. The Irish have donated horses for the competitors. Clay has been matched with a mare named Dessie. "Riding horses gives me confidence," Clay says. "I can't wait to compete."
Before traveling to Dublin, Clay and his South Central USA teammates spent a week in Belfast, as part of the Irish host-town program. "I've enjoyed meeting new people," Clay says, "especially all the Irish girls." Clay's coach, Katie Miller, describes him as inquistive, always smiling, and a surrogate brother to all of his female teammates. "I hope he'll walk away with a medal," Miller says. "But I know he'll walk away with important life skills—like time management, dealing with stress, and learning how to win and lose." "Most importantly," she adds, "Clay and all the athletes here will take home a sense of achievement, personal dignity and pride."
If you would like to follow Clay's competition just click on this link: www.2003specialolympics.com
Betsy Dixon reporting from Dublin, Ireland.